Monthworth of Baking – A Photographic Medley

Okay, maybe it’s not an entire month, but it certainly feels that way. All I know for sure is that it’s been a damn long time since I posted anything about the baking I’ve been doing, so much so that I’m not sure I’ll be able to catch up if devote a post to each one. So I’m going to have to cheat a little and post ’em all in one shot.

At least you’ll get pictures and the links to the recipes that inspired them. Hopefully I will be able to go back to my regular bake-then-post model soon, but it just seems like life has had a habit of getting away from me. For example, can you believe it’s already the middle of August?? That just seems so crazy to me!

Anyway, enough stalling – here we go.

The Quest for that perfect French Vanilla Ice Cream, inspired by David Lebovitz’s recipe. Of course. Although, sadly, I’m still in search of that deceptively simple yet elusive flavour. This was a great ice cream, don’t get me wrong, but it just felt a bit too close to frozen custard.

The Quest continues. Anyone have any tried-and-true recipes they care to point me in the direction of, feel free!

Pink Popcorn Candy Balls, made as party favours for a three year old’s birthday party.

Recipe inspired in part by Making Great Candy and also from popcorn machine manual that included a couple of suggested recipes.

Here’s a tip: don’t overlook these  manuals. What you may think is just some instructions for use and warranty limitations could be a goldmine of classic recipe inspiration.

 

Rhubarb Custard Pie with Strawberry-Sour Cream Ice Cream

I’ve begun a whole new love affair with rhubarb. I don’t put any extra sugar on it which allows for that natural tartness to come through.

My mouth is kind of starting to water just thinking about it. The recipe for the pie came from a Women’s Institute cookbook (home of all great pie recipes) while the ice cream – which might just be the very best strawberry ice cream I’ve ever tasted – came from here. I feel it’s important to note that the blogger was inspired by Lebovitz’s book,The Perfect Scoop.

Pate de Choux. My first attempt at making choux pastry. 

I have never in my life turned an oven up so high, plus I have the horrible habit of not being able to keep the door closed because I want to see what’s going on (and the inside light doesn’t work right now on my antique Eaton Viking), so not being able to do that for the first ten minutes was agony. But, I suppose, we have to suffer for our art. Sigh… 

This recipe comes from a book that has become my kitchen sidekick, The Baking Answer Book.

I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to…well, a lot of things, but I was constantly Googling random things like why the butter and water has to be so cold when using it for pastry (so that it will create pockets of steam that lead to a flakier crust), so this book has saved me from hours of wasted time that would have been better used baking as well as excess data usage on my iPhone!

 

Blueberry Quinoa Muffins came out of two things: a general curiosity and the lack of oatmeal for Sunday morning breakfast. I have been wanting to experiment with sweeter dishes using quinoa, so I swapped out the water you would normally boil the quinoa in for soy milk and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. The result was somewhere between an oatmeal and a rice pudding consistency – it was quite tasty, but thick enough to grout your tile if you let it stand too long.

I noticed that there was quite a bit left over, so not wanting to waste any of it I set about finding something to use the remaining quinoa. Although I look all over the Web for alternatives,  I should really know by now that there are generally two sites I can count on for most things: David Lebovitz and Martha Stewart. But I don’t mind – most of the thrill is in the chase, isn’t it?

I used Martha’s  recipe for the muffins, swapping out the vegetable oil for butter and the raisins for frozen blueberries. I did have to Google whether it was better to use frozen or fresh blueberries in baking – as it turns out frozen is the better choice as they hold their shape during the baking process and lend a nice extra bit of moisture to the overall texture of the finished product. This is probably common knowledge for most of you, but keep in mind – I’m new to this. Forgive me?

Macarons, since I’ve discovered how to do them, are my new obsession. It seemed only natural to pair it with another one of my latest obsessions: lemon.

The result? A macaron that tastes  almost exactly like lemon meringue pie. The ones pictured here deviate somewhat from the typical rounds, but take note: they do indeed have pied and therefore qualifies them as actual macarons. Siames twins and heart-shaped, but macarons nonetheless.

Recipe for both macaron shells and lemon curd filling from another kitchen sidekick of mine, I Love Macarons

 

Phew… I think that should just about do it. I may have almost got caught up here. I’m sure there’s something missing here, but these are the highlights that have come out of my sweet little kitchen over the past few weeks. I used more of my cookbooks than usual, which is good since that means they aren’t sitting around collecting dust.

Enjoy!

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Mental for Macarons, Messing with Tradition

I went with this title because it reminded me of Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, and that’s kind of where I find myself with the macaron right now. Now that it appears we’ve reached some sort of understanding and mutual cooperation, it’s all I can think about making. But that’s not the point of this blog – the point is to experiment with all manner of baked goods, wherever my whims or fancies might take me. But I do find it interesting – almost empowering, in a bizarre way – that the one confection that had eluded me for so long, to the point where I had become almost terrified of it, is now the bakery version of my BFF.

Take a good look at these macaron pictures side by side. One batch is baked in the Parisian tradition, with ground almonds and icing sugar sifted twice through etc. The other, however, is an experimental batch made with rice flour and dried lavender, adapted from this recipe by a New York City chef. And as a complete aside, isn’t there something extremely attractive about a young man who obsesses over making macarons? Or is that just me?

Anyways – I think it’s fairly obvious which ones are made with the lavender and rice flour combination. In hindsight I think that the texture would have come out much better had I just stuck faithfully to the recipe. But no. That’s just not the way I roll, it would seem. In fact, it would seem that once I managed to get my first ever batch of chocolate macarons to come out with the properly domed, uncracked shell and the all-important pied, that I started looking for other ways to create something that had been nothing but another failed dream for so long. To put it another, much more succinct way: once I did something right the first time, rather than continue to do it that way so as to become a master of it and then moving on to finding other options, I jump straight into looking for other options. So really, macarons are like a metaphor for my life. That might explain why they remained such a struggle for me for so long. It seemed that the harder I worked, the more painstakingly I followed the directions to the letter, the result was always the same: failure. I felt like I was going in circles and gave up on them altogether for quite awhile. Until I moved into my wonderful new house with my ancient yet insanely reliable Eaton Viking oven (that I am never, ever getting rid of for as long as I can help it) that I decided to give them another go with that David Lebovitz recipe. And the rest is blog history, really.

Wow…that got unintentionally deep there for a moment. But it’s true – as soon as I’d read about his own macaron attempts and his research from actual Parisian chefs who created them daily, I relaxed a little. Lebovitz is a world-renowned pastry chef, who has written a number of books on the subject of baking . If he had trouble baking macarons for the first time, then obviously someone like myself – with no formal training in pastry arts whatsoever and not nearly as much baking experience as him – would hit  few snags in the quest for almond-meringue perfection. And I think therein lies my problems in general: that I am my own worst enemy and that I have insanely high expectations of myself. I seek instant perfection, and if I don’t attain it then it’s automatically ‘my fault’ for whatever reason. Because I’m not smart enough, I’m not young enough, I’m not pretty or thin enough…the list could go on and on. Never does it occur to me that I may need some time to learn whatever skill or technique it is that I’m attempting to master. If I were good enough, it would just happen naturally. And when it doesn’t, it’s obviously because there is something wrong with me.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Yeah…when you type it all out like that it really is quite ridiculous to have such unrealistic demands of oneself. You wouldn’t expect that of your friends, your children, husband or wife. But I’m curious, how many of you out there feel kind of the same way? Because I know I can’t be alone in this.

Okay, so that concludes the impromptu therapy portion of our post today, and now back to the subject at hand: macarons. Part of me – the practical, non-crazy part – went looking for ways to create macarons with something other than almond flour, since that effectively denies most nut allergy sufferers of the joys of these little domes of heaven. A quick search in Google proved that I wasn’t the only one. I discovered that people were making their macarons, and achieving proper domage and pied, with such ingredients as coconut flour, ground pumpkin seeds and just straight up meringue bolstered with a bit of corn starch. But the main comment that links them all is that macaron purists would not consider these creations worthy of bearing the name since they have not been made in ‘the proper tradition’ .

To which I reply: You make your own traditions  as you roll along.